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Natural Resources & Energy

Carbon dioxide enhanced oil recovery survey finds resiliency and opportunities for growth

An oil rig on flat plains.
Stephanie Joyce
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A new report from Advanced Resources International gives an update on enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and carbon dioxide supplies for CO2 EOR projects for the end of the year 2020. Wyoming currently has six CO2 EOR projects. They use CO2 generated as waste from natural gas plants to bring hard-to-reach oil to the surface.

"It's a report that was started by the Oil and Gas Journal many, many years ago. And then they decided not to continue with the survey," said Lon Whitman, acting director of the University of Wyoming's Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute. "So it was picked up by a group including Advanced Resources International who invited a few others, like myself, to help reach back out to operators that hadn't been contacted for a couple of years to fill in the gaps where the survey with the Oil and Gas Journal stopped."

According to Whitman, the report is important to maintain industry knowledge. This year's report found that there was a slight decrease in oil production from CO2 EOR last year, which was comparable to the overall decline in U.S. crude oil production in 2020 and partially had to do with a decrease in the volumes of CO2 available for injection and storage. Whitman said that while CO2 availability can have an impact on the industry, it has a little bit of a buffer because it recycles a lot of its CO2.

"The CO2 actually attaches to the oil molecule and [is] under pressure. Then, as it comes to the surface, the pressure decreases, releases the CO2 from the oil, CO2 is recaptured, and the oil goes into tanks, or pipelines, whatever. So that CO2 works in a closed-loop," he said.

According to Whitman, CO2 EOR is highly effective, but building the infrastructure to support it is expensive.

"So right now with oil elevated a bit, it's helpful for these projects. You're going to see that with this increased oil price, it's again boosting things. So they're happy right now," he said.

Whitman said the current CO2 EOR fields in the state have been highly productive, and there's a lot of room for industry growth in Wyoming.

"There's huge reserves remaining in fields that have never been flooded, largely because getting CO2 where you need it has been limited due to pipeline access and supply," he said. "There has been a lot of work done on what's called the Wyoming Pipeline Corridor Initiative, where there was a group that studied where pipelines were needed, and how could we facilitate getting pipelines developed, specifically of interest, [to] the Bighorn Basin where there's huge reserves, that would be very, very appropriate for CO2 EOR flooding."

The process of CO2 EOR is a lower carbon intensity way of producing oil according to Whitman. It's also one of the ways to sequester carbon underground.

"So as with the governor's hope to see a clean environment in Wyoming with no emissions, all potential CO2 that's being emitted is being studied -- how to secure that, how to take it off the plant, and where could we put it underground," he said.

This means more CO2 emissions would be stored underground before they even reach the air.

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